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By John Sandys, Sir

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The obvious explanation of the apparent vast difference of approach between the two works is that as Plato grew older and wiser his optimism turned to pessimism, and his idealism into realism; and that in the Statesman we can see in him the act of changing horses. What makes this explanation so irresistible is of course the way in which the alleged doctrinal development matches the chronological sequence of the dialogues concerned: we feel in our bones that realism must come later than idealism.

It is Plato’s habit to let one topic launch him into a discussion of another, even when he has not finished the first, which then has to be resumed later. Some digressions are better organized, as for instance the discussion of responsibility in Book Nine, which is clearly relevant to its context. The Laws lacks the dramatic power of some of the earlier Platonic dialogues. 38 They address each other with grave courtesy; the Athenian is authoritative and loquacious, his companions naive and slightly overawed.

Some of these insights and proposals I have already mentioned: the complex arrangements for a ‘mixed’ constitution, the reforms of legal procedure, the enlightened theory of punishment, the persuasive legal preambles and the provision for a continuing review of the legal code by a specially trained body, the Nocturnal Council. Not all these proposals are wholly original to Plato; but taken together with countless measures of lesser moment they constitute an impressive programme for the reform of society by the rule of law, informed by the insights of research and philosophy.

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A history of classical scholarship / Vol. 3 by John Sandys, Sir


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